Nestled between hills on one side and the sea on the other, Marishbunia village in Teknaf’s Baharchhara union is pure beauty. Babbling brooks, mossy arched bridges and hibiscus shrubs in full bloom — this was the last location where Maj (retd) Sinha Rashed Md Khan was filming before he was killed in police firing on July 31.
But for such an idyllic location, the atmosphere in Marishbunia is unnerving. All the witnesses named in the case, filed against the slain ex-army major by police, are from this village, and the inhabitants have been between a rock and a hard place since early this month.
While the investigation officer in the Sinha murder case against nine policemen arrested three inhabitants of the village, listed as witnesses in the police case against Sinha, police have tried to use the villagers as pawns and rattle them into silence.
The locals allege that the village is under intensive surveillance. Several villagers, all interviewed separately, claimed that vehicles of different law enforcement agencies have been making daily rounds of the village.
Yesterday, these two correspondents encountered a black-tinted-windowed Hi-Ace microbus — the vehicle of choice for many a law enforcement agency — zipping through the village streets around 11:30am. Villagers walking down the streets stopped to stare as the van crossed them.
Over the last two days, whenever the correspondents visited the village, they entered crowded tea shops to ask questions but people quickly slunk away.
This fear goes back to the day when the witnesses were picked up by plainclothes men, and the Teknaf police retaliated by harassing their families.
Md Mobarak, brother of Md Aiyas, the third witness in the police case, showed these correspondents the broken lock on the front door of their house, and their broken back door.
“This was in the early hours of August 12. Aiyas had been picked up around 3:30pm the day before. A plainclothes man, flanked by two policemen in uniform, came at 2:00am. They asked for Aiyas’s wife, so she came to speak and answered questions about Aiyas.
“They left and came back an hour later — this time we were fearful and we didn’t open the door. They broke the locks, barged in and said Aiyas’s wife needed to go to Teknaf Police Station with them,” claimed Mobarak.
“We pleaded and they finally relented — but not before getting her signatures on a sheaf of blank papers,” he mentioned.
Aiyas’ family also alleged that the circumstances surrounding how Aiyas had been picked up was also very unnerving.
Mobarak said, “Around 3:30pm [on August 11], a group of people identifying themselves as journalists came to our house. They asked Aiyas to show them the spot where Sinha was coming down from the hill. I also went to the spot with my brother and saw Nazimuddin and Nurul Amin there.
“The people who identified themselves as journalists then said they must go to Cox’s Bazar to meet a foreign journalist. I was left behind. Later, his [Aiyas] phone was found turned off. Around 10:00pm, he called to say he was well and asked me not to worry. The following day, Rab produced him before court as an arrestee,” he mentioned.
On the August 11 night, policemen knocked the doors of their neighbours in the middle of the night. Right opposite Aiyas’s home is a mud-walled house where his distant uncle lives.
“They came to our house around 11:45pm and banged on the front door. They couldn’t break it because we use old-fashioned iron-rings to lock the door,” said the relative.
The house next door, where a single mother lives with her young child, was not spared either. Another neighbour named Md Hashim said police came to his house around 8:30pm and they too kept the door closed out of fear.
Hamid Hossain, an auto-rickshaw driver listed as a witness in the police case, had left the area, claimed his brother Kamal.
“I don’t know why police made my brother a witness… On the July 31 night, he had received a phone call from Aiyas saying they needed an auto-rickshaw to go to Shamlapur where a robber had been caught by police. He dropped them off in Shamlapur and came back.”
The following day was the Eid day. Police came around 10:00am while my brother was slaughtering a sacrificial cow. They took him to the police station in that state. He told me that they made him sign some blank papers,” alleged Kamal.
Hamid has been hiding since then, he claimed.
Police also broke into the house of another witness, Nazimuddin, claimed locals.
There have been allegations that Nazimuddin’s wife was forced to file a case claiming that her husband had been abducted by several men in a Hiace microbus. She was allegedly made to give her thumbprint on the documents.
When these correspondents visited her home yesterday, the entire premises were found empty. The neighbours said she fled the village the very next morning.
While Rab Director General Chowdhury Abdullah Al Mamun was visiting Baharchhara yesterday, journalists asked him why police forced the wife of one of the witnesses to file an abduction case when in fact it was Rab that had arrested the witnesses.
In response, he said the agencies are working together. “There is no lack of coordination among them.”
Khairul Islam, the investigation officer of the Sinha murder case and also assistant superintendent of police from Rab, described to the Rab DG how Sinha had come out of the car with his hands raised in the air when he was shot.
At a press briefing in Cox’s Bazar last night, Lt Col Ashiq Billah, director of Rab’s Legal and Media Wing, said, “An officer with a track record of solving 700 cases has been given the charge of investigation. Today we interrogated three members of the Armed Police Battalion, who were present at the check post on the day of the incident.”
They are sub-inspector Md Shahjahan and constables Md Razib and Md Abdullah.
“They will be interrogated further for the next few days. Legal action will be taken if their involvement is found.
“We will also investigate the narcotics case that police filed against Shipra Debnath, one of Maj (retd) Sinha’s team members. We have prayed to the court for a directive on handover of Shipra’s belongings to Rab. Her belongings are currently with police but they have not yet cooperated,” he said.
“We also quizzed the four arrested policemen and three witnesses, and got vital information that we are currently analysing,” added the Rab official.
Sources at the Cox’s Bazar district jail said the four-member probe committee, formed by the home ministry, interrogated inspector Liaqat Ali, the prime accused in the Sinha murder case, and another accused, SI Nandadulal Rakhshit, from 10:30am to 6:45pm yesterday.
Another key accused, Pradeep Kumar, former OC of Teknaf Police Station, will be quizzed today, added the sources.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh Police Association issued a statement claiming that some vested quarters are out to malign the image of police, while they are in fact completely cooperating in the investigation.